All posts in “Technology”

Rasa Core kicks up the context for chatbots


Context is everything when dealing with dialog systems. We humans take for granted how complex even our simplest conversations are. That’s part of the reason why dialog systems can’t live up to their human counterparts. But with an interactive learning approach and some open source love, Berlin-based Rasa is hoping to help enterprises solve their conversational AI problems.

The premise of Rasa Core is similar to the approach of a lot of AI startups that use services like Amazon Mechanical Turk to correct for uncertainty faced by machine learning models. But instead of Turk, Rasa built its own platform that allows anyone to train and update models by engaging in sample conversations with bots under construction.

You can see this playing out in the image above. Rasa Core suggests the most probable pre-programmed action that a given user is looking to perform. The trainer can then either reaffirm the correct decision or correct for an error. After a correction, the model adapts and the next time it’s faced with a similar situation, it won’t need to question it.

The Rasa team says that only a few dozen sample conversations are needed to get a bot working effectively. Of course extra samples can only serve to help increase accuracy and ultimately user friendliness for customers.

“We’ve seen conversations IBM built on their Watson tech and it was a little disappointing,” Florian Nägele, a PM for conversational AI and customer of Rasa at large European insurer Helvetica, told me in an interview. “You have one decision tree and you can’t take over context from one tree to another.”

The beauty of Rasa’s approach is that it allows customers to bootstrap models without training data. In a perfect world everyone has large corpuses of sample conversations that they can use to train dialog systems but this isn’t always the case — particularly for less technical enterprises.

Rasa Core is available now in open source via GitHub. The company also announced paid enterprise tiers for both Rasa Core and Rasa NLU. We covered Rasa NLU when it launched back in December 2016. The paid subscriptions will offer enterprises an administrative interface, customer support, automated testing and collaborative model training.

Sonos announces the Sonos One, a self-contained, Alexa-connected speaker


THe Sonos One is a new speaker designed from the ground-up for voice interaction via Alexa. The speaker is similar to the current home speakers Sonos sells but six internal microphones allow you to speak to the spaker without extra voice control hardware.

The system uses echo-cancellation tech to hear you over the music and the six internal microphones will be able to hear you anywhere in the room.

The Sonos One will support AirPlay 2 when it launches next year.

The speaker will allow you to say things like “Pause music,” “Play track in living room,” and “Play playlist Harcdore” and Sonos will react.

FAA outlaws drone use around 10 US monuments and dams


The Federal Aviation Administration announced new rules for drone use around key US landmarks including monuments and dams. Under the new restrictions, drones are not to fly within 400 feet of the designated landmarks. The FAA says these rules were implemented at the request of the US security and law enforcement agencies.

These locations are just the latest to the growing list of the FAA’s no-fly zones which includes airports and airstrips, army bases, sports stadiums, and national parks. Interestingly enough, half of the locations on the latest list are dams, which shows the FAA is taking a stronger stance against drones around utilities as well. The restrictions will be effective October 5, 2017.

  • Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York, NY
  • Boston National Historical Park (U.S.S. Constitution), Boston, MA
  • Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia, PA
  • Folsom Dam; Folsom, CA
  • Glen Canyon Dam; Lake Powell, AZ
  • Grand Coulee Dam; Grand Coulee, WA
  • Hoover Dam; Boulder City, NV
  • Jefferson National Expansion Memorial; St. Louis, MO
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial; Keystone, SD
  • Shasta Dam; Shasta Lake, CA

Delta to offer free in-flight use of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and iMessage


Starting October 1, passengers on most Delta will have free access to WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and iMessage. To access the feature, a passenger will have to log into Delta’s in-flight wifi portal powered by Gogo. This is first time an airline has offered such a service throughout its fleet.

Traditional SMS messages will not work. Only the aforementioned mobile messaging services are supported at launch and users will not be able to send videos or pictures. Passengers are, thankfully, not able to use this service to live stream from their flight.

I fly a lot and this is a significant free service to me. Over countless flights, I purchased a costly Gogo internet package just to use iMessage. Most of the time in a flight I don’t want to check my email or Slack or Twitter. When flying I want some me time, but sometimes, it’s also nice to just chat with some friends and now that can be done for free.

Even before this, there was some hacks and workarounds to let users access these services without paying. Not that I’m the sort of guy to exploit such loopholes.

The makers of the Solarin secure cellie are building a bitphone


Bitcoin-powered cellphones – basically phones that can securely hold and send cryptocurrencies – have long been a fascinating if undeveloped concept in the crypto community. When phones talk to each other using BTC or other currencies – whether its to pay bills or send money to friends – you open up an interesting world of commerce.

Finney is a new $799 phone by the makers of the Solarin secure phone that aims to offer a “ultra-secure blockchain-enabled environment, with the functionality and essentials of Android OS.” Further, the company intends to release a desktop computer for $999 with the same features. In short, this is the world’s first proper bitphone.

In order to maintain true crypto bonafides Sirin Labs is holding a token sale that will allow only token holders to buy the phone, thus futzing with the phone’s demand curve and allowing users to trade in the Finney’s own currency.

The phone will have a 5.2-inch display, 256GB of storage, and 8GB RAM. It will have a 16-megapixel rear camera and a 12-megapixel front camera. Further, the phones will “will form an independent blockchain network, a distributed ledger that is scalable and lightweight, powered by the IOTA’s Tangle technology.” The phone is named after Bitcoin pioneer Hal Finney who died in 2014.

The built-in wallet will have physical authentication including three factors of authentication and secure resource sharing among phones. There will also be an app store for decentralized apps.

Whether or not the Finney is a simple receptacle for crypto buzzwords or a real unique product remains to be see but it certainly seems like Sirin is pushing all the right buttons when it comes to making one of the first real bitphones. Hopefully things work out batter for the Finney than they did for Solarin.